FAUST IN BROOKLYN
EDDIE was seated at the small wooden desk in his room, a table lamp lighting its surface. He had lived in the room, with the same furniture, since grammar school and the ten-by-twelve-foot room still looked like the home of a very neat sixth-grader. Nothing was out of place. His legs, clad in black pants, barely fit under the tiny desk, which faced the white wall. To his right was a long, low chest of red drawers that still had his Boy Scout stickers stuck onto the front.
Eddie was twenty-two years old and only left his room for a few hours each night. He had no job, no wife or girlfriend. He had no friends. He had only his work.
Open before him was one of his most prized possessions, a large piece of heavy paper with white dots and lines on a huge black circle--a star chart of the constellations in the heavens.
Framed by black, arched brows, his brown eyes were focused on the star map, eyeing the white spots and faint lines that connected them into the ghostly, floating figures of the zodiac. Eddie's black T-shirt and pants made his untanned olive skin seem lighter than it was. His curly black hair was pulled tight behind his head into a small ponytail and gathered with multicolored rubber bands. A full black mustache and rough half-growth of beard coveredhalf of the smooth skin of his boyish, handsome face, which bore an intense, angry expression.
One more time, he spun the dark circle of sky, until he was looking at the stars and constellations for that night after midnight, May 31, 1990. Orion the Hunter and the Pleiades--the Seven Sisters--were safely below the horizon but Leo the Lion was loose in the sky.
On the desktop, over the star chart, Eddie carefully spread out his school supplies--a blue ballpoint pen, a green felt-tipped pen, white paper, a compass, and a ruler--as if he were beginning his geometry homework. Nearby, wrapped in a piece of paper, sat three large pebbles.
He pulled on a pair of black leather gloves. From a plastic package, he removed a sheet of white looseleaf paper with five punched holes down the left margin. School paper. Using the compass and pens, he carefully drew and wrote his message on the page.
When he was finished, he folded the paper several times around the stones and drew something on the outside. Then he wrapped the package in another sheet of paper. He took off his gloves and put most of his writing supplies away into their drawer, arranging the pens and compass in an orderly row. He left out one green felt-tipped pen.
Eddie's drawers were very neat. All of his clothes and books and papers and toys were stacked and aligned properly, the same way every time, with the corners of some things pointing to specific letters or spots on the object below. Only his bureau was locked, but it didn't matter. If anyone ever went through the books or magazines in his closets or his files, he would know because they could never replace them exactly. The booby-trapped stack was a trick he had learned while studying to be a secret operative.
His dream of being a U.S. Army Special Forces commando never came true because he was an only son. Theywould not take him into the army and give him a real gun of his own--because he had failed their tests and because his mother did not want to be left alone. But just because Eddie had to stay with his mother in East New York, Brooklyn, one of the most crime-plagued and drug-infested neighborhoods in the city, didn't mean he couldn't be a commando. It certainly didn't mean he would cease his quest for knowledge, especially if it was forbidden or hidden.
He turned and glanced at the red numbers of his clock radio, 12:02 A.M. It was time. He stood, turned around, and walked a few steps to a wrought-iron and wood table that held a twelve-inch color television. On a low shelf below the televison sat a cedar box emblazoned with a cross inside a circle. Eddie opened the casketlike box and removed the white leather family Bible. Numerous mass cards from funerals Eddie had attended, as well as slips of paper, were used as bookmarks and protruded past the gilt-edged pages.
On the wall above the TV hung a church calendar, with a bow of dried palm fronds received in church on Palm Sunday tucked into the top. To the right of the calendar was another set of four shelves, which contained more religious materials. A second Bible in Spanish belonged to Eddie's mother, but he used it often. Several religious medals were also displayed, including a commemorative Pope Paul bronze medallion.
In a place of honor, on top of the Spanish Bible, was a red five-by-seven-inch paperback book, The 6th and 7th Books of Moses, or Moses' Magical Spirit Art. The cover featured an engraving of Michelangelo's marble sculpture of the prophet Moses. In this version, the two horns on Moses' head were very prominent and devil-like and the Hebrew holy man stared back with sorcerer's eyes.
The book was filled with several works on white magic and black magic and offered the sorcerer's apprentice page after page of magic charms, cabalistic circles, and secretincantations to call up spirits eager to do his bidding. A treatise from 1850 on astrological influences and magical cures stated that the ancients believed that "the heavenly bodies were gifted with life and that they, being endowed with higher powers, could exercise an influence upon man by means of mysterious magical influences, could regulate his temperament, his disposition and his term of life." One part of the book was devoted to necromancy, the art of speaking to the dead in order to predict the future and grant wishes. There were complete instructions, some by the legendary magician Faust himself, on how to conjure up demons like Mephistopheles--the devil. Another section was devoted to the magical use of the Psalms of the Bible, which, combined with certain arcane rituals, would secure all manner of help for the user, it said. Small scraps of paper had been used to mark certain pages, and important rituals had been circled or marked. The white pages were stained in several places with oils and what appeared to be blood.
Eddie took his Moses book off the shelf and placed it, along with the white Bible, on the desk. He sat down and opened the Moses book to page 161, where he had left a clean piece of paper as a bookmark. The name "Faust" had been scribbled in the margin of the book next to a passage on the magical use of one of the Psalms:
You should write the 83rd Psalm properly, upon pure parchment, and suspend it around your neck, and by so doing you will abide safely in war, avoiding defeat and captivity. If you should, however, be overcome, your captors will not harm you, for even in captivity no harm can befall you.
Eddie opened the white Bible to the 83rd Psalm, picked up a green felt-tipped pen, and carefully began to copy the words of the Psalm onto the loose piece of paper. He smiled to himself as he copied the line about the enemiesof the Lord that "have taken crafty counsel against thy Hidden Ones." Like Eddie. The words of the Psalm implored God to make the enemies perish and become "as dung for the earth." When Eddie had finished, he poked two holes in the top of the paper and threaded a black shoelace through it and hung the talisman around his neck.
He stood and walked past the television to the corner of his room, to his cabinet of curiosities, a dark walnut bureau with two large doors. He unlocked it with a key from his pants pocket and pulled open the left door. Inside, hanging from a bar near the top, were Eddie's night clothes, including a black jacket, his maroon Omega beret, and other dark apparel, all in proper size order. Below the hanging clothes were several pairs of black shoes and sneakers and a pair of dark leather boots, with 2½-inch heels. He slipped on the jacket, then sat on the end of his bed and pulled on his boots, zipping up the sides above the ankle. Eddie's small bed was barely big enough for his wiry frame. Neatly made, it was covered with a pink satin quilt and two pillows decorated with large matching pink roses.
Taller now, he stood up and put on a black navy watch cap, like a SEAL commando before a mission. He tucked his black leather gloves and a spare hat into his jacket pocket, along with a small black penlight, and then pulled open the right door of the bureau, revealing an open shelf area above four drawers. A dozen shiny cylinders sat on the open shelf--stacks of silver quarters.
He pulled open the second drawer and pored over his glittering collection of knives, all arranged side by side, like in a store or museum. Also decorating the drawer were his razor-sharp ninja throwing stars, his brass knuckles, and military insignia.
He selected a sheathed dagger and pulled the gleaming 3½-inch blade from its scabbard to make sure it was spotless before he slipped it inside his belt. He closed the drawer and pulled open the one below it.
Unlike the sparkling weapons above, the drawer containedrows of dull gray metal pipes that were strung with loose brown shoestrings and heavy rubber bands and wrapped at the ends with white adhesive tape. Some had wooden handles. The objects looked like pieces of scrap metal or make-believe plumbing thrown together by a child. In the back of the drawer was a row of small, square cardboard boxes, each of which contained 50 bullets of .22-caliber, .38-caliber, 9-millimeter, or .380 automatic rounds, all with soft-nosed lead tips. Eddie took two spare 9-millimeter bullets, squat brass cartridges topped by fat lead slugs, and slipped them into his pants pocket, in casehe was followed. He fondly regarded his clunky creations and selected one heavy, foot-long pipe that had a T-juncture and a protruding six-inch piece of pipe in the middle, the shorter piece of pipe wrapped in white adhesive tape. He picked the object up by the short, white handle. A commercial logo, "U.S. Pipe" was molded in raised letters on the middle fitting. Eddie liked that because the large letters "U.S." reminded him of the U.S. Army.
Eddie glanced up at the wall to the right of the bureau, where four wooden shelves displayed plastic models he had constructed years ago. On top was a large aircraft carrier, a battleship below that. Two models of jet aircraft were nose-to-nose on the third shelf, and the bottom shelf held a tank and missile carriers. They were empty toy missiles, war planes that would never fly, warships that would never sail, or even float. As a child, growing up without his father, Eddie enjoyed assembling the hundreds of tiny pieces. He liked working alone in his room, slowly, painstakingly, and still did. The best part was when he would show his mother a completed model. She would beam with pride and make a big fuss over him, calling him by his nickname, Herri. She praised his talent and skill and even bragged to visitors about her smart son. But, after her next husband arrived, and, later, Eddie's half-sister was born, his mother had less and less time for him. Even when that husband left, like the others, it was never the same.
The make-believe guns on the models would never fire, but the one he made with his own hands from junk did. What would his mother say if she knew?
He placed the weird weapon into the left inside pocket of his jacket. He then took the twice-wrapped message from his desk and put it into another pocket.
He picked up the Moses book to refresh his memory. Everything must be done exactly right. He turned to the marker for page 152 and scanned down the page to where "Faust" had been written in the left margin and a drop of oil stained the page next to one familiar entry:
PSALM 20--Mix in a vessel, rose-oil, water and salt, pray over it seven times in the most holy name Jeho, this Psalm and a suitable prayer, in a low voice and with reverence, then annoint with this oil your face and hands, and sprinkle it on your clothing, and you will remain free from all danger and suffering that day. Are you summoned to appear before the judge in person, in a judicial trial, you should avail yourself of the above means shortly beforehand, and by so doing you will surely be justified and depart without restraint.
Eddie did an about-face and walked to the outside wall of his room, to an oval mirror with an ornate dark wooden frame hanging on the wall. It had once hung lower on the wall, so little Eddie could dress for school, but it had been raised so a 5-foot-8-inch Eddie could now see himself in the glass. Below the mirror was a child-size wooden table with a small bowl partly filled with water. Next to it were a salt shaker and a bottle of rose oil. Into the bowl he poured some rose oil and sprinkled some salt, and mixed it with his finger.
Every move he made was reflected in the glass, as if two Eddies were at work. The letters on the sign around his neck were backwards in the mirror and seemed mysterious,like the magic of the ancient Hebrews in the book.
He picked up the white Bible and opened it to a bookmark. He began to read Psalm 20 of David in a low and reverent voice, low enough not to wake his mother and sister, who were asleep in the next room. Seven times he intoned the words of the Psalm, an ancient battle hymn whose music had been lost long ago. The words called on God to protect His anointed and implored Him to "accept all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice."
Eddie felt a deep, rumbling wave approaching, coming up through his feet, building, coming closer. He let it flow through his entire body. The room began to shake and rattle like a gentle earthquake from the subsonic vibration of the subway four stories below the floor, beneath Pitkin Avenue. Slowly, the earthquake subsided as the train passed.
He felt a cool draft on his face. A soft May breeze of spring air was wafting through the two large windows on either side of the mirror. Both windows opened onto a metal fire escape outside. The wind was billowing the curtains decorated with big, fat blue roses that matched the sky-blue sections on the patterned cobalt-blue linoleum floor. The flooring was old and worn through in several spots, but had been mopped at least once that day and sparkled with cleanliness.
Eddie stepped to the barred windows, which were covered with an ugly lattice of steel security gates, to keep out criminals. But the breeze didn't smell like roses of any color; it stank like East New York. Through the metal, he looked out of the crumbling century-old building he lived in, at an almost identical building next door. Looking up, he could barely see a little patch of midnight sky, but no stars. Too much pollution, too many lights. But the stars were there--even in the daytime--guiding our destiny, even if nobody could see them or bothered to look.
Eddie felt another wave building inside him, but this time it wasn't the subway. It was the feeling, as if the spiritof Zodiac was entering his body. He could feel hot, red rage emanating from his groin, building, flowing upward, tightening his stomach, anger and pain and fear enflaming his heart and face, in shivering wave after wave. Soon, he would find a new victim to fire it into. He would spread fear. He let the anger flow through him and pass. He was in control. He could control it because he kept himself pure. He was not a sinful fornicator. He had never had sex with anyone. God knew that.
Wearing his high-heeled leather boots, he was as tall as the San Francisco Zodiac, which made it harder to identify him by height. Since there were no prints on the letter in his pocket, the cops would have to believe the California Zodiac had come to New York.
Very soon the anger would flow through him again and it would be harder to control. Only one thing could satisfy that feeling, and the time was right, according to the stars.
The only ones who could stop Zodiac from bringing forth the twelve signs--one victim for each astrological sign--were Orion and the Seven Sisters, and they were not in the sky. But Eddie's sign, Leo the Lion, was prowling the sky above, protecting him, giving him power. Just like the other times.
It was time for Zodiac to strike again. Zodiac would follow his next target. He would punish the sinners and his message would be known.
Eddie anointed himself--his unshaven face, his black hair and black clothing--with the holy liquid and strode out into the night of the new day, smelling like a rose.
Copyright © 1997 by Kieran Crowley.